Coding a More Diverse Future

Recently, there has been a groundswell of interest in computer programming and coding. While these are indeed skills that are critical to technological innovation, it’s important to note that Computer Science (CS) is much more than just writing code. It’s also the study of computers and algorithms including their principles, their hardware and software design, and their impact on society. CS is about the way of thinking needed to solve complex problems and drive innovation, not just in tech, but also in fields as diverse as medicine and music.

Yet, despite the importance of learning CS, there simply aren’t enough students who understand the power and creativity that it holds. Even fewer have role models in the field or have access to opportunities to learn CS. In fact, there will be 1.4 million new computing-related jobs created in the US this decade, and if current trends don’t change significantly, the US will only produce enough undergraduates in CS to fill 32% of these jobs (NCWIT). This is a problem Google cares deeply about.

To address this, Google is focusing on where the greatest gaps are in attracting and retaining more students in CS — particularly girls and minorities, who have historically been underrepresented in the field. Today, women hold only 27% of all CS jobs (NSF). While the number of women studying STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) in college is generally on the rise, fewer are studying CS: women earning bachelor’s degrees in CS has dropped from 37% of all CS degrees 1984 to 18% of degrees in 2009.

Google is committed to ensuring that all groups — regardless of gender, ethnicity, geography, or socio-economic level — have equitable access to CS opportunities because it is the right thing to do. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the issue, we commissioned a research study, Women who Choose Computer Science, to identify the drivers that motivate young women to pursue CS. We surveyed over 1,600 US high school students and recent college graduates to identify the most important levers that predict interest in CS. We found that social encouragement, career perception, academic exposure, and self-perception during the high school years are the key controllable indicators for whether or not young women decide to pursue a CS degree. What’s equally exciting is that social encouragement from family, friends and educators alike can help increase female participation in Computer Science, regardless of their own technical abilities or background.

Based on this research, we’ve got to start at the K-12 level to capture students’ interests early and integrate CS with areas they are passionate about. In addition to partnering with organizations working to increase access to CS education, such as NCWIT and code.org, Google has launched initiatives such as Made with Code, a website featuring accessible online coding projects and highlighting mentor/maker role models and CS First, an after-school and summer CS program for grades 4-8.

Bringing more diversity into CS is a collective effort and we need to continue to build on the momentum. Not only do we need to encourage more girls to explore the field, but we need to lay the foundation for systemic change including getting more CS classes in schools. This will take the focus of policy makers and those working in the formal school systems as well as after-school programs, industry, and informal education programs. Google is committed to partnering with the CS community to raise awareness, scale our efforts, and make deep and sustainable change.


About the author:

Mo-Yun Lei Fong is the Director of the Google K-12 Education Outreach which inspires girls and under-represented minorities to pursue studies and careers in computer science and other STEM fields. Prior to this role, she was a finance director and Chief Compliance Officer for Google Wallet and worked at PayPal.


Mo-Yun will be one of several presenters at Pearson’s STEM Ed Series, Closing the Gender Gap, held February 19-21, 2015. Located at the Fairmont San Jose & Google Campus in Silicon Valley, California, educators and industry leaders will discuss ideas and programs to help close the gap in STEM education and STEM careers with a focus on technology. More information about the event including registration can be found here: http://www.pearsonhighered.com/stem-closing-the-gender-gap.